NPR's Interview of a Humanist Chaplain

Click HERE for my critique of the interview as posted to my blog, Sojourner in the 21st Century. 

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Comment by Michael Penn on May 15, 2013 at 10:37am

That's interesting, Alex, and I agree with Loren. I'm still remembering that the former Pope, now in ill heath and retired, has decided to focus on a study of prayer. Perhaps he is still wondering why prayer never worked for him?

In studies of prayer given to heart patients before surgery, we have learned that prayer made no difference whatsoever. Many of the gullible delusionists would say that was because the ones praying did not know how to pray. You have to be rolling around on the floor, or lay hands on and say "Ho See Con Didli Eye. In Jebus name."

Comment by Loren Miller on May 12, 2013 at 7:26am

One portion of the interview you quoted stuck out with me:

Because, at a moment of crisis, what people are really traumatized by is that we feel so helpless and, for humanists, the number one way to overcome feeling helpless is to reach out and help other people.

Okay, so how does one actually HELP someone else, help them in a palpable and substantial way?  They can offer comfort or support in the form of their presence and their empathy.  They can take it further - offer to keep an eye on the kids while the other person is in the hospital, buy groceries or run errands or do SOMETHING which has a positive impact on the person affected by whatever tragedy has occurred.  Point being, assistance can take the form of either material support or moral support.

Worthy of note here: The Only Way That Prayer Can Be Effective Is If BOTH People Think That It Is.  In that regard it falls into the "comfort and support" category mentioned earlier.  Prayer for these people is mostly a demonstration of empathy, and it may have a value in that regard, but again, ONLY FOR BELIEVERS.  This begs the question: what happens when an atheist is impacted by such an incident and a believing support person offers to pray for him/her?  Actually, regardless of which party is the believer and which is the atheist, a conflict is very liable to arise if either party brings up the desire or need for prayer.  One will think it essential, the other that it is a waste of time and ineffectual.

This is where the National Day of Prayer has its biggest problem.  It assumes that EVERYONE prays or believes in the power of prayer and uses that as a means of mustering empathy on a countrywide scale.  Obviously, this assumption is mistaken and growing more so as more people reject religion and its usages, such as prayer.  It also represents a problem for humanists and atheists in that we look more to provide substantial help to those in crisis and may forget that moral support of some form is equally necessary.  Certainly we can be THERE for someone, to listen to their story and understand their hurt without having to fold our hands and utter meaningless words to a non-existent god.  The barrier is getting both sides of the equation to recognize that.

Do we therefore need something more like a National Day of Empathy?  Maybe.  Such a day would certainly be more inclusive and perhaps better recognizing of both kinds of help needed when a tragedy strikes.  It would also recognize that there is more than one opinion out there as regards what constitutes moral support.

It would also require one side of this equation to grow up a bit.  Not holding my breath here, though.

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